Follow-up on Apple Analytics, One Month In. At first glance, yes, the thing that was established in the Wired piece that declared “Podcasts Listeners Are The Holy Grail Advertisers Hoped They’d Be” is indeed a thing to feel pretty positive about. But there are, of course, many nuances to consider when thinking about this story, what it means, and everything that’s going to happen from here on out:
(1) Just a reminder that the picture painted by the new in-episode analytics is still a partial one. As Apple made it a point to emphasize in a recent email sent out to the podcast publishing community: “Note that Podcast Analytics shows data from users playing content in the Podcasts app (iOS 11 or later) or iTunes 12.7 or later (macOS and Windows). Not all listeners are using the latest version of Podcasts app and iTunes.” As of January 18, 2018, iOS11 is installed on 65% of iOS devices. That doesn’t ultimately dispute the underlying finding or portrait of the podcast listener, of course, but it’s nonetheless important to be fully aware of the nature of the data from which we’re drawing conclusions.
(2) In my write-up on the matter earlier this week, I advocated for the importance of breaking this story down into two parts: the first being a question of whether the fundamental podcast listener engagement was as strong as the industry’s value narrative has long characterized it to be, and the second being whether the revelation of this would automatically gobs and gobs of more brand money to flow into the space. The answer to the first question is indubitably yes, and as more than few people went to point out on Twitter, the medium didn’t quite need the Apple analytics to establish what they’ve long already known from DR ads, surveys, and personal experiences. Which is, of course, not really the point, and it illustrates a larger political question about who gets to tell the story — and define the value — of podcasts to a broader universe of people.
(3) As for the second question, an experienced media journalist reminded me, over email, that a piece focusing on the relationship between the new analytics and subsequent changes in advertising interest would need many more quotes from advertisers instead of publishers. That person also reminded that ad buyers, in general, are usually pretty slow to adapt to anything.
(4) More than a few readers wrote to bring up what I like to think is a very tangential adaptation of the Observer Effect. “Do you think,” they asked in various ways, “That podcast engagement will change with the increased transparency and attention by advertisers?” This, of course, is a question that can be unfolded in an infinitely complex number of ways. And obviously, I don’t know. But I do think it’s helpful to flip the predictive question into a descriptive summary: the highly engaged nature of contemporary podcast listening is likely, almost definitely, the product of all the industry’s conditions up until this point — its quirkiness, its high frictions to advertisers and listeners, its early constituencies that span closet-recording independents to public radio stations to radio artists. The nature of that engagement is not a fixed trait of structure; it is fluid product of a constellation of things. And therefore, it is very likely, following whatever increases in advertiser interests will come from this moment, the nature of engagement will change.
(5) Something to mull over:
(6) Just one last thing, about the thread weaved in the Wired piece on what the data has revealed about ideal lengths — i.e. that there doesn’t seem to be much suggestion on what the ideal length of a podcast should be: I mean, sure. My stance has always been that the question should never be about how long a certain show is or should be, it’s about how the chosen length of any show should earn every second that it demands of the consumer. I think that applies to books, movies, music, video games, etc. etc. It’s a subjective, process-oriented thing; not a structural, discovery-oriented gambit.
Slow Everything. Slate’s Slow Burn wrapped up last week, and man, I really enjoyed that first run. And what a tease for the next season, too, which the team very coyly dropped at the tail end of the final episode. Slight spoiler if you don’t wanna know yet, but the show’s going to take its premise — answering the question of “How did it feel like to live through X” — and apply it to the late-90’s Impeachment of Bill Clinton. What good bit of timing and zeitgeist-fishing, given the fact that, like, the ’90s are so hot right now. (See: American Crime Story: OJ vs The People and The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Lady Bird, that Bruno Mars and Cardi B joint, etc. etc. Hell, Clinton’s Impeachment is pretty hot itself; the brouhaha is already being adapted into a six-part scripted TV drama for the History channel.)
Anyway, I find myself thinking a lot about that underlying premise, of composing a show that’s meant to be true time travel, and how it’s a potent enough framework that can be applied to so many more realms beyond political history. There could very well be a Slow Burn for sports, which is a different proposition altogether than what we’ve traditionally been getting from sports documentaries. Those projects tend to focus on spinning out the narratives of athletes and principal characters of action, and how they lived their lives; but how about the lived experiences of mere mortal sports fans and peripheral characters during pivotal moments? What, for example, was it like to live through the moment when Jackie Robinson batted for the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first time? How did it feel to grow up in Philadelphia during the reign of Allen Iverson? (Hell, what does this Sunday’s Superbowl mean to Philly right now?) There’s room to apply it to music: how did it feel to be a young person in the age of college rock?
It is, in a sense, a kind of take on a people’s history, and I don’t think I’ve consumed much work of that genre in forms other than text. Alright, alright. I’ll get off my gas now. Just spitballin’, y’know?